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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                   J3|
solemn expression that was totally alien to his nature. He
dearly loved his mother, an old village doctor, but for
some reason he was ashamed of this sentiment and did
his best to conceal it.
The tankman was the only one who did not share
those joyous moments when a lively interchange of news
was going on in the ward. He became gloomier than ever,
turned to the wall and pulled his blanket over his head.
He had nobody to write to him. The larger the number
of letters the ward received, the more acutely he felt his
loneliness. But one day Klavdia Mikhailovna appeared at
the door with her face beaming even more than usual.
Trying to keep her eyes away from the Commissar she
said hurriedly:
"Well, who's going to dance today?"
She looked towards the tankman's bed and her kindly
face lit up with a broad smile. Everybody felt that some-
thing extraordinary had happened. The ward was tense
with expectation.
"Lieutenant Gvozdev, it's your turn to dance. Now
then, step it out."
Meresyev saw Gvozdev give a start and turn round
sharply, and he saw his eyes flash through the slits in his
bandages. Gvozdev at once restrained himself, however,
and said in a trembling voice which he tried to lend a
tone of indifference:
"It's a mistake. There must be another Gvozdev in
the next ward." But his eyes looked eagerly, hungrily
towards three letters which the nurse held up high, like
a flag.
"No! There's no mistake," said the nurse. "Look!
'Lieutenant G. M. Gvozdev', and even the number of the
ward: forty-two. Well?"
A bandaged hand darted from under the blanket. It
trembled while the lieutenant put a letter to his mouth
and convulsively tore the envelope open with his teeth.
His eyes flashed with excitement. A strange thing! Three
girl friends, medical students of the same year, at the
same university, in different handwriting and in different
words, wrote approximately the same thing. On learn-
ing that Lieutenant Gvozdev, the hero tankman, was
lying wounded in Moscow, they had decided to enter